Not Your Grandmother’s Psychology

April 21, 2017 Carol No comments exist

The psychology of today is not your grandmother’s psychology. The psychology of old tried to keep us out of the negative numbers, as close to zero as possible. Today’s psychology includes positive psychology, which is all about life above zero.

What Can We Most Hope for in Life?

What is the most we can ever hope for in life? What is the best we can do?


Positive psychology has some good news for us!


We now know that we can do better than these old answers:

  • We know that we can do better than the illness view, which says that the best you can do in life is not to be miserable.
  • We know that we can do better than any of the Three Traditional Theories of Happiness.

Positive psychology has some better answers for us!


The latest positive psychology model — the PERMA model — provides the framework for our best answers to date


not your grandmother's psychology

PERMA is a new theory of well-being. 


PERMA says that human flourishing, well-being is what we can hope for, for our future. It validates the view that we can live life above zero.


PERMA is plausible thing to measure.


Can you build it? Can well-being be lastingly increased? Yes to both!


Can it be built in schools and organizations? That’s a stepping stone to the theory that the planet could flourish.


PERMA is Martin Seligman’s gift to us. It represents the latest milestone in his remarkable body of work.

PERMA Basics

PERMA has five elements, or pillars. These are the five elements that free people can choose in life.


These are the characteristics of an element:

  • An element contributes to well-being.
  • An element is pursued for its own sake, not merely to get one of the other elements.
  • An element can be measured independently of the other elements.

Each of these elements is respectably measurable.


Each of these things is teachable.


You and actually have more of each of PERMA in your life!


Here’s a brief look at each element.

P – Positive Emotion

As in: The smiley-face, hedonic view, feeling good.


How much positive emotion you feel is about 50% inheritable, and it’s only increasable by about 10-15 per-cent.

E – Engagement 

As in: Flow, totally wrapped up in what you’re doing, When time stops for you, when you’re one with the music.

R – Relationships 

As in: Good relationships with others.


When you are in your highest positive states, it’s almost never solitary.

We’ve evolved to be hive creatures. The hedonic system is built around other people. – Martin Seligman

M – Meaning 

As in: Meaning and purpose, belonging to and serving something bigger than the self.

The self is completely poverished soil for well-being. – Martin Seligman

A – Accomplishment

As in: Accomplishment, achievement, mastering

How PERMA Came to Be

Let’s take a look at how PERMA came to be. This will give us some of its fundamental concepts. And you might see some fascinating parallels between Seligman’s  work journey and your own life journey.

Positive Psychology Turns Psychology-as-Usual on Its Head

Compare the premises and goals of psychology-as-usual versus those of positive psychology.

Entrenched Pessimistic Premises New Premises
Negative Emotion & Negative Events Positive Emotion & Positive Events
Illness and Depression Well Being
Childhood and History Drawn into the Future 
Hard Determinism Will and Choice
The Goal: Remediation & removal of disabling conditions The Goal: To Build Enabling Conditions and to Flourish

Well-being is more than the absence of illness.

The wisdom from the mountain, that came from Freud, and, before Freud, Schopenhauer went like this: The best you can ever do in life is not to be miserable, that is, to hold your suffering as close to zero as possible. That is the illness view.


Here is how Martin Seligman refutes the illness view: “That view is empirically false, morally insidious, and a political dead-end. When you lie in bed at night, you’re mostly trying to figure out how to go from +2 to +5 in life.You’re not trying to figure out how to go from -8 to -6 in life.”


Any endeavor that is remedial in nature — the treatment of illness, for example, psychology-as-usual — even if your’re successful, the best you can ever get to is zero.


What is possible in human life, measurable and build-able, is stuff above zero.


The skills of having positive emotion, good relations, engagement, meaning in life are completely different from the skills of not being sad, or not being angry, or not being anxious.

Human beings are drawn into the future rather than driven by the past.

We all grew up with the notion that we were driven by the past. Darwin, Marx, Freud — all argued that we were prisoners of the past.


Seligman says, “That’s a very inadequate formulation of human beings.” He argues that human beings are drawn into the future. Human being “is a species that is constantly doing ‘if x and then y,’ scanning among those possibilities, and then making decisions about those possible futures.” “Human beings are creatures of imagination.”

Positive Psychology Evolves

The central theories in the field of positive psychology are continuing to evolve.


Martin Seligman has given us two of the most major theories:

  • Authentic Happiness Theory
  • PERMA: A New Theory of Well-Being

In Happiness Is Not Enough, Seligman explains why he made the progression from Authentic Happiness to PERMA.


Here is an excerpt:

When I wrote  Authentic Happiness a decade ago, I thought that happiness could be analyzed into three different elements that we choose for their own sakes: positive emotion, engagement, and meaning. …  Happiness and life satisfaction, I thought, could be increased by building positive emotion, engagement, and a sense of meaning in life.


This is not enough.


I no longer think that positive psychology is about happiness, or about a quest for increasing life satisfaction through positive emotion, engagement, and meaning. … I believe the gold standard for measuring well-being is flourishing, and that the goal of positive psychology is to increase flourishing. Flourishing rests on five pillars, each of which we value  for its own sake, not merely as a means to some other end.

Seligman shares this new vision in his book Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being.


Three Traditional Theories of Happiness

  1. Hedonism theory, holds that happiness is a matter of raw subjective feeling.
  2. Desire theories hold that happiness is a matter of getting what you want (Griffin, 1986), with the content of the want left up to the person who does the wanting.  
  3. Objective List theory (Nussbaum, 1992; Sen, 1985) lodges happiness outside of feeling and onto a list of “truly valuable” things in the real world. It holds that happiness consists of a human life that achieves certain things from a list of worthwhile pursuits. 

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